When President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Northern Ireland, the two allies focused on the war in Iraq and its aftermath. But the so-called roadmap to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also on the agenda.
The roadmap has been discussed for some time. Developed mainly by the United States with participation from Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, it is based on several previous proposals for a cease-fire and a resumption of peace negotiations.
The current roadmap lays out a step-by-step approach to end the violence and bring about a withdrawal of Israeli troops from areas they have effectively re-occupied since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. It also includes plans for substantive Palestinian reforms, a freeze on all Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, and it foresees a final peace agreement and an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
The Palestinian leadership officially has accepted the plan and Israeli leaders say yes to the idea, although they want changes, but analysts on both sides are skeptical it will work.
"Will the American administration pressure Israel into stopping settlement policy, would it pressure Israel into withdrawing from areas re-occupied after the 28th of September 2000?" asked political scientist Ali Jarbawi, who says Palestinians doubt the United States will really deliver. "We need deeds, not only words," he added, "I do not think that the American administration is going to do this."
Ali Jarbawi teaches at Birzeit University in Ramallah. He says Palestinians blame the United States for condoning decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. He says they do not believe the United States will be any more evenhanded in its future dealings.
Professor Jarbawi says domestic politics in the United States will likely prevent any substantive movement on the road map. He says that as President Bush moves closer to a re-election campaign, he cannot afford to alienate those elements of American electorate that represent a powerful pro-Israel lobby, and other conservative elements who are against a future Palestinian state.
Shlomo Brum, retired Israeli general and now a senior political researcher at Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, thinks that since several previous peace plans were not implemented, there is no reason to believe the roadmap will fare any better.
Shlomo Brum said attempts at political reform within the Palestinian Authority are being undermined by its leader, Yasser Arafat and there is no evidence that Yasser Arafat is ready to halt terrorism. That, he said, will be reason enough to keep Israel from fulfilling its commitments.
"The Israeli party is to do two things in the first stages, first is to redeploy the forces… Israel will not do it until terrorism will cease, and as I said, I do not believe terrorism will cease as long as Arafat is around," said Mr. Brum. "Then, the second demand for Israel is to freeze settlements and I do not believe that this government, which consists mostly of right wing parties, is capable of freezing the settlements."
With such widespread skepticism about the roadmap's chances for success one has to ask why it is being talked about so much.
General Brum said that is simple. "It has dealt with so much because it is the only game in town, and everyone is devoid of any other ideas how to get out of this quagmire," he added.
General Brum said he does not believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end anytime soon. But, he thinks it will be resolved someday, when both sides are worn down enough to seriously try to find another way out.